Lessons Learned from my Grandfather

There are many things that go in families. It might be a common interest, a talent or skill. In my case one of my close relatives to have a major impact on my life has been my late maternal grandfather, Professor Vincent Louis Granger a”h. I have felt close to him and had much admiration of him since getting to know him at the age of 7 years old when my mother, my sister and I moved to Cape Town, the city of my grandparents. The extent of understanding just how strong an influence he has had on my life has really come together since writing a book that is dedicated to his merit.

In the book, I describe how my grandfather became interested in assisting the disabled population in South Africa. There are some who develop an interest and will use that to read up on a given topic or perhaps to volunteer once a week, once in two weeks and so on. Not so for my grandfather. When he decided to assist in a specific project he gave his all to that project.

The story of how my grandfather came to have an interest in helping the disabled goes back to WW2. While some point fingers or grumble over what transpired during the wartime years especially in Nazi Europe, for my grandfather, complaining was never part of his agenda. When he heard of what was taking place in Europe he took himself off to the Castle in Cape Town, South Africa and signed up to join the Allied forces. Already a qualified civil engineer, he signed up as a sapper and spent the war years serving on a high level.

During one of the battles, my grandfather was thrown from a vehicle he was traveling in when the vehicle overturned. It was a miracle he ever walked again and a miracle he continue to work given the level of back pain that he experienced as a result. Being the incredible person that he was, he did not sit back and wallow in his pain, he took action on every level. He got involved in an organization called St Giles in Cape Town, initially as chairman and later as honorary life president. Due to his role as deputy city engineer, he obtain the rights to a plot of land, designed a rehabilitation centre, built a model and used that to obtain the necessary funding. The centre still stands and is used by both St Giles and the Association for the Physically Disabled.

This is already impressive, however, my grandfather went on to write up a number of papers that educate about accessibility of buildings for the disabled population. The articles focus on ensuring that architects and engineers will include accessibility in their designs. As if that was not enough he went on to ensure that a law was passed that public buildings in South Africa be accessible to all.

With such an inspiring role model some of his attitude had to wear off. Was it spending time with him that made the difference? Was it his encouraging me to study occupational therapy? I am not quite sure. He is a tough act to follow and I am grateful to have differences to our path. One detail is similar though, we both had a desire to build a rehabilitation centre. For my grandfather, it was through his profession and the position that he held at the time that he was able to bring that idea into being. He had all the right contacts, the knowledge and skills though he would not be the one providing the rehabilitation.

On my side, my vision of a centre is different in very many ways. My path has been greatly different too. My grandfather began with a desire to help those less fortunate than he in an area related to his experience. He had a physical disability from which he was blessed to regain most of his function. It mattered to him to ease the lives of those who had not had the same miraculous outcome. In my life, I have had a few situations that called for a different type of centre.

Firstly, during my studies I picked up an infection that turned chronic. My journey to regain my health lead me to make a number of changes in my life. These changes have taught me a different approach to healthcare than mere physical rehabilitation. Through this my centre incorporates services to assist promoting health and wellness and prevent illness or injury.

I have another area that is very close to my heart and that is empowering orphans, a service I hope to expand to empowering widows too. This came once again from my life experience as my father was orphaned from his father 4 and half months before he was born and I was orphaned from my father when still at school.

From my grandfather I learned to use one’s life experience to increase goodness and to help those less fortunate than one is. However, here too my life differs a little. There are times that the services I offer to orphans are the services I needed at certain stages in my life but did not receive.

The journey has been and continues to be an incredible and special one. Filled with challenges, trials and hurdles. As I grapple with how to come up with the funds for the venue of the centre I am developing, it is very heart warming to look back and acknowledge those who have benefited from the humble beginnings. Unlike my grandfather, I can not design the centre. I can not build a model, though I often wish I could! I do not have the appropriate job situation to allow me to secure a plot of land. Instead of volunteering for an organization and progressing to become Honorary Life President, I have begun with a desire, some skills and much hard work.

Slowly but surely a service began, the start of a store was added, a bridal gown rental service was added next. Instead of a model I have written a book, hopefully the first of several to promote both my profession and the areas of my profession that I am involved in. Now comes the biggest challenge. I am not able to secure funds the way my late grandfather was able to. So I am turning instead to crowd fundraising. I hope that telling my story will provide inspiration to others. If nothing else, at least it is always a delight to share what an impressive contribution my grandfather made to the greater population. It is always a pleasure to remember that although WW2 had so very many terrible happenings associated with it, I was witness to someone who stood up against it and used every aspect of the experience he went through to come back and do good for others.

At a minimum, it is a joy to share his wonderful work and through that to keep his name alive. If I can be successful to develop my own centre too, may that go to the merit of my late father, his late father and of my maternal grandfather too. I am not sure how others relate to a loved one who has left this world. For me, being able to do something meaningful in their merit is what gives me strength to continue without them here along side me.